Thursday, 27 November 2008


Violations in the Valley
A talk by Brad Adams from Human Rights Watch and Victoria Schofield, author of
Kashmir in Conflict
20 November, SOAS

It is a good thing I am making the effort to attend lectures outside the class room by people talking about real situations and conflicts; otherwise, I would go around thinking conflicts were caused by greedy trouble-making 'rascals' (as Cramer put it).

Brad Adams

It was Brad Adams who kicked off the talk by saying that Human Rights Watch does not take a position on self determination otherwise they would be considered biased and, perhaps denied entry or access. There are three actors in the Kashmir conflict: the Indian state, the Pakistani state and, militant groups. Human Rights Watch released two reports in 2006: "Everyone Lives in Fear" in Jammu and Kashmir and "With Friends Like These" in Azad Kashmir. For the first report, it was the first time that a Western journalist/expert was allowed to release a report on human rights in Jammu.

Adams laid a grim and horrible picture of the situation in Kashmir: one of heavy military presence, 'encounter killings' and, a large number of disappearances. Thousands of Kashmiris are in custody. Officially, there are 4,000 or 5,000 persons in custory although no one knows for sure. The high court in Srinagar is overburdened with cases. The Indian state at first gives a blanket denial of any disappearances or anyone in custory. At best, they respond by saying that because of military discipline 130 odd cases have been clearned. Privately, the armed forces which act with total impunity, admit that 'these things happen,' 'innocents get killed,' militant forces are supported by Pakistani ISI. The excuses for the army's behaviour is that the soldiers are scared, jumpy and, poorly trained and paid. This may be true however, that is clearly not the issue or excuse. Indian law protects the army and unless the Minister gives permission to prosecute nothing will happen. The last fail safe is that 'officer has been transferred out of Kashmir.'

The Indian state has effectively contracted out killings and solutions to the Army which is running the show and not politicians per se. The truism in India is that more money is spent in this state than any other per capita to create loyalty. The new PM is 'helpless' particularly as head of a coalition.

The main complaint from the Kashmiris is the physical presence of the Army: checkpoints, harassment, being searched. It is an occupation. There is no sense of normalcy.

The militants have also perpetrated many abuses. Human Rights Watch maintains that it is illegal and immoral to set bombs to target civilians. The number of attacks have gone down in recent years. Pakistan officially denies any support to the militants but privately no one denies it.

Being a Pakistani, I was not so much surprised or even shocked but angry to angry to hear that Human Rights Watch's experience in Azad Kashmir was not a bed of roses. Azad Kashmir is a police state and it is apparently much more difficult to interview people. People only talk one-to-one in whispers. Brad Adams said that the situation in the Valley is obviously much much worse however, it is sad that the Pakistani Kasmir has frequent torture and lack of a free media. It is ironic because Pakistan claims the higher moral ground.

Although polling is not accurate, most Kashmiris prefer independence.

The Report recently released by Human Rights Watch says: i) the cycle of violence must end ii) the Army is protected by the Indian state iii) there is increasing resentment by the Kashmiris in the Valley iv) the Indian state has no intention of negotiating v) most people in India think of the Kashmir issue as a nuisance vi) the Indian strategy is one of attrition vii) the Indian state wants to wipe out militancy at any costs - if this is true this drastically reduces options for the Kashmiris.

I was really impressed listening to this fellow. He spoke very clearly and, did not use any notes during the entire length of his speech. He was very restrained and, at the same time, one can guess his attachment to the plight of the Kashmiris.

Victoria Schofield

The dudette lady gave us a broad sweep of the history of the roots of this conflict which lie in the Partition of India. There were 560 princely states at this time. The rulers of Hyderabad and Junagar for example did not want to go either to Pakistan or India. The ruler of Kashmir with a 75% Muslim population wanted to stay independent. For two months, Jammu and Kashmir was actually independent. When things started heating up, the Maharaja of Kashmir requested assistance from the Government of India. Mountbatten suggested temporary ascension before the transfer of weapons to India. Hostilities broke out and, a UN resolution was passed calling for a plebiscite. However, it must be understood that this plebiscite was flawed to begin with. There were only two options - ascension to Pakistan or India without any option for independence. Moreover, the plebscite is unclear about specifics such as Ladakh and the Northern Areas. Despite this, the plebiscite has transformed itself into the symbol of azadi.

Pakistan and India both have a territorial objective and, independence does not sit well with either two positions. Pakistan supports the independence of Kashmiris from India given Kashmir will pass to it.

According to a Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) poll, 75% Kashmiris want independence.

General Mush Mush made somewhat of a departure from Pakistan's traditional stand on the Kashmir issue. He started a lot of "confidence building measures." She had met him during one of her visits to Pakistan and, thought he seemed to be open to alternative solutions or more compromises with India. The current government has also been trying to follow open dialogue and diplomacy. However, it can safely be said that any compromise or solution to Kashmir will not be easy given the entrenched positions of both states. India considers Kashmir an internal issue and for Pakistan, it is almost part of the psyche, a matter of national honour.

India is clearly the more powerful player in this situation. In fact, it is the 'key' player. The Indian Government will not only lose face if the status quo is changed but it will open up a pandora's box for any other nationalist struggles within its territory. She gave an example of the maps one finds in Jammu and Kashmir which not only show this territory as an integral part of India (not a disputed territory which shares a Line of Control with Pakistan) but also Azad Kashmir and Northern Areas of Pakistan. India has a completely 'fossilsed' view.

Pakistan however needs a 'carrot' or some other incentive (Siachen Glacier?) in order for things to move forward.

She has been going to Kashmir for the past twenty years. She said every family in the Valley has lost either a husband or a son or a brother to the conflict.

Her belief is that the plebiscite is not the answer.

Although India has not really budged on its position at all since the start of the conflict, there are little baby steps. The Indian PM said that the Government has zero tolerance for abuses. This may not seem like a lot but this it is a big deal that the Indian Government has even said it.


There were many questions, one very naive but evoked a great answer. One fellow asked why the UN doesn't send troops into Kashmir. Brad Adams and Victoria Schofield were very patient in their answers explaining that the UN actually has no mandate or authorit to send in troops to Kashmir. Moreover, the conflict has been ignored for most of its history. It is only when Pakistan and India became nuclear powers that it became a little bit more visible. India is a huge international player and really knows how to work the system. What I found really hilarious was when Brad Adams said that all Indians have to say is 'colonialism' to the Brits and the Brits get scared; like its a 'boo' or something. As for the Americans, they are too busy cementing their nuclear deal with India. Human Rights Watch could not get any comment at all on the Kashmir issue from the American Embassy in India. Human Rights Watch says it does not support UN sanctions but the organisation should at least be allowed to go into Kashmir for fact finding, find corroboration. The fact that is that the UN is equally 'scared' of India.

Another question dealt with Kashmiri journalists in the UK. Were they doing a good job? Yes, some of them are pretty good. The Internet and the technological revolution has also done a lot to bring exposure and communication to Kashmir. As for Pakistani journalists, their views are mostly fossilised too. They are still talking about the plebiscite. We need to change and revise the rhetoric.

Generally, there is no international focus on Kashmir. The Obama government will focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, it is not out outrightly understood that Kashmir is a vital piece of the puzzle! Pakistan is an arch rival with India due to its terroritial dispute over Kashmir. Much of Pakistani's history is about fighting wars with India, building a strong army and intelligence at the cost of other institutions, and seeking 'strategic depth' in Afghanistan. (Please see my entry on the Ahmed Rashid lecture).

Another kid (the same one who wanted to know why the UN wasn't sending in troops to Kashmir like it did in Africa, as if Africa were more 'cared' for) said that Musharraf's autobiography admitted that the government has no control over ISI while India says 'stop militancy' to Pakistan. Wasn't it a vicious circle? Brad Adams said it was more of a self serving dishonest statement more than anything else. He said it was interesting that all the militant groups resurfaced after the earthquake in Kashmir in 2005. These militant groups directly received aid from the government and other channels.

Tail End

This was really a humbling experience for me. Kashmir has completely receded into the background. It hardly features in world news. Moreover, we in Pakistan have for the most part been brainwashed by our Government into believing that we do indeed hold the higher moral ground. It was said during the talk that the ascension of the Northern Areas to Pakistan has still not been formally accepted by Pakistan so that the status quo would not change. The Northern Areas don't have any formal representation in our Government. We don't have to go into any detail into the make up of our democracy or our government but, it is clearly it is even more flawed than we know. I don't remember thinking about Kashmir for some time. We in Pakistan are now too busy observing and processing the explosion of 'terrorist' violence and the spill over from Afghanistan, our past coming to haunt us. However, everything is connected. We cannot separate any of these situations. I was also humbled by the dignity and hard work of these two people who have clearly devoted so much time of their lives to this conflict, speaking about it, understanding it and letting the world know what is going on. For this we as Pakistanis should be grateful for the truth.

I never knew that Mountbatten was assassinated by the IRA!!

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